CAPE TOWN — A good man, it is said, is hard to find. But in South Africa, Charles Maisel has turned up 50,000.
That's the number of people nominated for Mr. Maisel's 'Everyday Hero' campaign established to ferret out the best fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, stepfathers, and male friends in the country. It is one facet of a program that's engaging men in the fight against domestic violence and rape - in a nation that has one of the highest incidents of such crimes in the world.
Computer printouts of the 50,000 names papered the walls of St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Cape Town yesterday, where a special mass was held to celebrate the heroes. Dozens of hand-written nomination letters from children cover the church pillars.
"My father is strict but gentle as a lamb," wrote Naadiya Moosajee of her father, Ismail Moosajee. "Next to President Mandela, my grandfather is my Everyday Hero," said Mishkah Rinquest. And Jacqui Nicole Sauls nominated her teenage brother,
Jaim: "He is much older than most of the grown men I know ... older in every sense of the following words: older in love, peace, and most of all, understanding."
There are uncles who have taken in orphaned nieces and male students who encourage and respect their female campus pals. There is a big brother who stopped a bully from hitting his little sister - and further amazed her by treating his girlfriend with respect. There are best friends' fathers who lead by their example of giving food and friendship to the poor, and one incredible dad who supports the widows and children of two murdered neighbors.
Interestingly for a campaign organized by Cape Town's Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD) agency, at least a third of the letters are from Muslims.
The campaign, although national, began in Cape Town, and many letters reflect life in the more deprived parts of the city: gangsters prevail, rape and murder are ever-present threats, and unemployment has risen among those who expected life to improve with the end of apartheid. Discouragement being a corrosive factor in so many families, a significant number of Everyday Hero fathers were nominated just for sticking around and doing the basics.
"Getting up every morning and going to work just to put food on the table sounds simple but not many people are able to do that and I admire him for not giving up hope when things get a bit bumpy," wrote Alia Limbada of her father, Mohomad Limbada.
The violence in South Africa is as prevalent in homes as it is in the streets. For example, the rape rate is four times greater than in the US. "One in 6 men abuses their women and/or their children," says Maisel, adding with emphasis, "Which means that 5 in 6 do not." From that statistic was born Maisel's "5 in 6" program, his main focus as a community worker.
"Men are the perpetrators of most domestic violence and certainly of rape but both men and women tend to see these as women's issues. When you call a meeting of men to address domestic violence, 80 percent of those who turn up will be women," says Maisel. After eight years of trial and error Maisel has discovered that if he calls men together to discuss "community problems" rather than "domestic violence," he'll get a sizable male turnout.
To date, 50 entities including major fishing companies, the country's leading distiller, the police, municipal governments and unions have invited Maisel and his colleagues to hold workshops on "community problems" with blue-collar workers.
"After the first meeting it's clear we're talking about domestic violence and that's OK with the men, they begin to see it as part of overall community insecurity that they want to address." In the workshops they use Maisel's just-published workbook "The Secret of Working With Men." Rather than preaching solutions, the workbook elicits from the men their own questions and answers regarding domestic violence and their family and community roles.
"We don't say they must intervene" in specific instances of rape or family violence, says Maisel, whose beard and dishevelled long hair give him the air of a hippie. "We want them to look for their own creative, nonviolent approaches. For example, if rape is commonplace in a certain area the men may say vigilantism (rife in much of poorly policed South Africa) is not the answer, lighting the streets is an answer. Men bring a certain creativity to dealing with these issues. For most it's probably the first time ever that they speak about these issues."
The 5 in 6 program has been replicated in Nicaragua, Nigeria and Canada. The program's Web site invites people worldwide to nominate their Everyday Heroes (http://goodmanbadman.mweb.co.za).
Maisel is ambitious: he's not just out to change individual blue collar family men's minds, he wants to address patriarchy at all levels of society. When the 5 in 6 teams meet men in the workplace they talk about the workers' place in the pyramid of corporate hierarchy, "how the top dogs got there and how they stay there," he says.
"Blue-collar guys understand their position in the corporate pyramid but then they have to look at what happens when they go home, where they get to be CEO." Maisel's in favor of a flat structure both at home and at work. "If the CEO of the company the guy works for is a power freak, well, he's a role model for his male workers."
Maisel says that he's not establishing anything like the United States' "men's movement." Rather, "This is pure community development work."
The 5 in 6 program is now linking the 50,000 Everyday Heroes together at neighborhood and community levels. "We might do a workshop or ask them to meet and discuss the first things they want to do for their families and communities," says Maisel About 100 of the nomination letters are to be published in a book.
"We have trouble choosing the best, so many reveal so much about family and community life and the difference a good man can make," says Maisel.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society